Syrian insurgents ready to quit last rebel town in Ghouta

Bashar Assad

On Monday, 26 Syrian military servicemen and civilians were freed from the captivity of the Faylaq al-Rahman group, based on previous agreements. Government forces now control all of Syria's major urban centers, and about 60 percent of territory.

The departure was part of a deal reached last week between the Islamist group and Russian Federation, which is helping its Syrian ally negotiate such deals to clear the last rebels out of Ghouta.

Jaish al-Islam, the powerful faction that holds Douma, had hoped talks with Moscow would result in their staying in the town, instead of being bussed out like other opposition fighters.

To help the regime capture the rest, Moscow began talks with the rebels in each area.

The state news agency revealed the names of the newly-released people from the town of Arbeen in Eastern Ghouta, as part of a deal reached recently for the rebels' evacuation from areas in the central part of Eastern Ghouta. The official also explained that sappers, who defused hundreds of mines located in the tunnels, found field hospitals with sophisticated health devices. "We've missed them so much", said Abu Laith, who himself was evacuated 10 months ago from another Damascus district.

As the buses pulled in, long-lost relatives broke into tears and hugged each other emotionally.

"The negotiations are to remain, not to leave", Army of Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV from inside Douma.

Al-Watan, a newspaper close to the Syrian government, reported Tuesday that military forces were already amassing around Douma.

It said a "preliminary understanding" had been reached that would see the "dissolution of Jaish al-Islam, the handover of its heavy weapons and the return of state institutions to the city".

But divisions within opposition ranks were holding up the talks with some hardliners seeking to sabotage the proposed deal, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Residents trapped in Douma said they wanted a quick settlement to end the siege.

As for locals, Abu Ayman, 30, said: "I've spent my whole life here and lived the revolution. How could I abandon his grave?"

Some had already fled into government-held zones, using a corridor opened by regime troops.

About 16,000 people have fled Douma.

Eastern Ghouta, a 105-square-km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, poses the last threat to the capital due to its proximity to government-controlled neighborhoods east of Damascus and ongoing mortar attacks that target residential areas in the capital, pushing people over the edge.

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